“There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” is a common saying in marketing. A company may make a huge mistake or even get caught doing things that are unscrupulous or illegal. Everyone comes together to condemn what they’ve done, or to laugh at their ineptitude. But even so, that means people are talking about the company. The brand name is getting exposure and people will remember it.
So the thinking is, it doesn’t matter how people are talking about your brand, as long as they’re talking about it. But is this true? Is there really such thing as bad publicity? Well, yes and no.
A recurring problem in social media is that of getting hacked. A number of brands, both large and small, have had their Twitter passwords discovered by outside parties, who post bizarre and often childish and offensive messages to their followers. While most people don’t blame the company for the offensive messages themselves, it’s still an embarrassing ordeal, and can be seen as a sign of weakness and ineptitude, since they weren’t able to protect themselves. And yet, these ordeals generally result in a significant spike in followers of the hacked account.
Or take the recent Miley Cyrus ordeal. The former Disney pre-teen pop idol appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards and put on a display to show that she’s now all grown up. Her performance was almost universally loathed by critics and audiences alike. Singing suggestive songs and performing raunchy dance moves, people all over Twitter and Facebook were mocking the performance for weeks and speculating that this might mean the end of her career, if not the downfall of society itself.
But it seems Miley had the last laugh. Her song, “Wrecking Ball,” released on the same day as her VMA performance, quickly rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, becoming her first No. 1 song in the United States.
With these things in mind, it would seem that the saying is correct. That no matter what you do or how badly you’re reviled, as long as people are talking about you, you’re still doing well. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. For many companies, a scandal, an embarrassment or a bad public decision can cause them to lose customers. Stocks can fall if there’s even a remotely negative news story released about a company. A boycott or a protest can stir up buzz around a company, but it can also lead to significant revenue losses. Sure, people are talking about the brand, but that hardly matters if no one is buying from them.
President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best thing is the wrong thing. And the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Statistically speaking, a screw-up that causes people to react negatively to your company is better than having no one know about your company at all. But it’s no substitute for a well-planned, well-executed long-term marketing campaign.
A major disaster for your brand isn’t the end of the world. It can be detrimental, but it doesn’t have to be. In the end, it’s all about how you handle it. If you maintain your grace and poise, and know how to spin things, then you can get through with your reputation intact. After all, that’s what marketing is all about.